As you know, maintaining a brand image both on- and off-line requires a lot of moving parts, and user-generated content is one area where marketers will never have total control. In the era of instant communication, word of mouth can be either a great asset to a brand, or a detriment. Luckily, there are proactive ways that marketers can handle the negative, get more of the positive, and build awareness around certain topics or activities online.
Word of mouth marketing is the practice of influencing the spread of consumer sentiment on a given brand or product. How can marketers harness the phenomenon for good? The first step is to give consumers (users) the tools to voice and share their opinions, and remove obstacles for doing so. Online consumers crave the input and endorsements of other consumers they identify with and trust—in fact, 58% of respondents to an SDL survey reported sharing positive experiences with a business online, and asking for input or reviews on businesses from family and friends.
How can marketers achieve this? There are two approaches:
The Low-Touch Strategy: Building a Reputation With Social Signals
“Build it, and they will come.” Create the platforms for users to easily endorse your business through social media features everyone can use: Likes, shares, ReTweets, follows, star ratings, RePins—all reflect positively on an online brand. It helps to have an active social media community surrounding your brand, which requires, at minimum, the following:
- A Facebook business page
- A Google My Business page and Maps listing
- A Yelp listing
- An active, monitored Twitter account
Depending on your business and industry, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media platforms will also be of value. You’ll also want to target niche websites and services where your target audience may be looking for a particular product or service. Branding and creative elements should be consistent across all social properties (logo, header images, color schemes) as well as business name and information, making it easy for users to find you in multiple places.
The High-Touch Strategy: Building A Reputation with Customer Reviews
This approach requires rolling up your sleeves and tackling the customer review on a more personal level. There are two sides to this approach: responding to reviews (positive and negative) and actively asking customers for endorsement.
Once you’ve given your customers multiple places to voice their opinions about your brand, you aren’t out of the woods—in fact, the fun has only just begun. Your team must be ready to provide timely, consistent, and thoughtful responses to both positive and negative reviews; both can affect how consumers view your brand. People love to discuss their customer service stories, and they love seeing companies turn a negative situation around to make a customer happy. Give them something to talk about by quickly and professionally handling any negative reviews. Your brand style guide and customer service policy should be at the heart of your review response strategy.
When you need a specific type of review (say, for a new product or service you’ve just launched, or to help target a new audience) you will need to solicit endorsements. Make it a fair trade: offer something to your customers in return for their time, like a coupon, free sample, or discount. According to research from Software Advice, 50% of consumers are motivated to refer a business when offered a direct incentive, like social recognition or deals via access to an exclusive loyalty program.
Word of mouth marketing is a powerful force that, if you can harness it, can make a huge difference in brand awareness. It’s important for your brand to be known for the right reasons, though, so make sure that your strategy for promoting word of mouth marketing and interacting with consumers is strong and consistent.
Tune in next week for our next post, which will take a closer look at the relationship between branding and online reputation management.